What have they done to my Tomb Raider?

Crystal Dynamics decide it's time for another Lara Croft reboot...

What have they done to my Tomb Raider  Everybody Plays
15th August, 2012

Ever since the massive gaming expo, E3, where the latest Tomb Raider trailer, 'Crossroads' was revealed, there's been something of a media backlash, thanks to the trailer appearing to show the attempted sexual assault/rape of the world's foremost gaming heroin, Lara Croft (and you can see the trailer for yourself here, with the aformentioned "scene" starting at around 2:15. Be warned though, it is a bit gory in places). In it, Lara has been captured by a group of men, and has her arms tied behind her back, as she attempts to make an escape. Unfortunately for her, her escape doesn't go all that well, and she finds herself trapped, in a corner, where she's discovered by one of her captors, who tries to make some moves on her, while she can't fight back. Lara, being the fighter that she is, manages to turn the event on it's head, and fights back, eventually killing her captor, something which seems to trouble her for the rest of the trailer (and apparently, the game). While the scene itself is certainly a long way from rape, it was possibly a comment from the game's producer that seemed to start everyone worrying. "What happens is her best friend gets kidnapped, she gets taken prisoner by scavengers on the island. They try to rape her. She's literally turned into a cornered animal. And that's a huge step in her evolution: she's either forced to fight back or die." While Crystal Dynamics, the company behind the game, have been quick to try and right things before it all gets derailed, saying that “while there is a threatening undertone in the sequence and surrounding drama, it never goes any further than the scenes that we have already shown publicly.” and that "Sexual assault of any kind is categorically not a theme that we cover in this game", the fact that so many were so quick to accept that actually, this could very well be a main story arc in the game, shows just how far this Tomb Raider's removed from the games that came before it. While there's been no secret made of Lara's sex symbol status, until now, she's always been painted as someone in control, brushing off any advances with a witty comeback or remark – I get that it's meant to be a 'character-defining moment' and everything, but can't help thinking that I liked the old character better - and really don't like where this game's going...

There are few series' I know better than Tomb Raider. Having played every game in the franchise so far (yes, even Angel of Darkness) from start to finish, often multiple times through, I've been there, done that, but haven't quite gone as far as buying the t-shirt. And while I'd usually be over the moon at the thought of a new game - after all, Tomb Raider still holds the record as the only game I've ever pre-ordered - for once, the prospect of a new game fills me with doubt. You see, the powers that be have decided that the iconic Lara Croft is in need of yet another reboot, as the reasons the games weren't selling as well as they should do had nothing at all to do with their length, quality, or glitches, but instead were entirely down to Lara having lost her lustre as a game character. Incidentally, it's worth keeping in mind that this will actually be Lara's fourth "reboot" in as many games - and, in our opinion, it's one that's entirely unnecessary, seeing as the only real problem with the previous instalments, Underworld and Legend, was their length (or lack thereof), especially compared with the marathon that was Tomb Raider: Anniversary, a remake of the original game which, not coincidentally, turned out to be the best game the series has had for a fair time.

I can't be the only one who shut the butler in the freezer so he can't interrupt your assault course with an impromptu tea break...

When it was first launched back in 1996, Tomb Raider made a name for itself for a number of reasons. A third person adventure game, starring a strong, independently minded female character called Lara Croft, Tomb Raider was like nothing that had come before it. With a strong sense of adventure, playing as young Lara, it was up to you to explore uncharted tombs, risk life and limb, and dodge countless booby traps as you went, in a game which captured the minds of many a female player, and for many, may even have served as their first foray into the world of games. Effectively a female version of Indiana Jones, the Tomb Raider games were, in a word, brilliant - and it certainly didn't hurt that they had an emphasis on brain over brawn, with puzzles waiting to be solved, and dozens of fiendishly hidden secrets to discover.

Known only as 'Tomb Raider' this ninth/tenth instalment (depending on whether you include Anniversary, as it was technically a remake) follows the English archaeologist's 'origin story', from when she was just twenty-one years old and fresh out of University. When the ship she was travelling on encounters a storm somewhere off the coast of Japan, in the mysterious 'Dragon's Triangle' (similar to the Bermuda Triangle), Lara finds herself washed up on a mysterious island. Captured by the island's inhabitants, it becomes a battle for survival that, we're promised, will push Lara to her very limits, mentally, and physically, through a gruelling, knife-edge battle for survival that turns Lara into the fearless explorer she is today.

It'll also be the first game in the series to be rated at an 18, and promises a darker, grittier game with that games industry staple, “visceral combat”, and gorier deaths. This is becoming something of a sticking point at Everybody Play HQ recently, because try as we might, we can't see why every developer in the world seems to be rushing to stick increasingly gory deaths into their games. We've yet to come across a single person who gets excited about a game, or specifically decides to buy it because of the gore - yet we know plenty who decide otherwise. Us included. Apparently, the decision to make the move towards ultra-violence was because they felt they needed to “modernise the franchise” somewhat (read: do what everyone else does), and obviously the best way to do that is to make it like every other grim and gory game out there, with buckets of blood, and copious quantities of completely needless violence and blood. Gears of Lara: Croft of War anyone?

Tomb Raider Screenshot

If PETA got a hold of this...

Considering 'visceral' comes from the word 'viscera', which relates internal organs and entrails, combat in which I get to see everyone's insides splattered all over the walls doesn't really appeal to me – and I'm exactly sure who it would appeal to. The new game also brings with it the promise of gorier deaths, one of which sees Lara (or her enemies) getting their skulls crushed by boulders, with blood flying everywhere, while another sees Lara fall victim to a nutter who's hurled a scythe, which pierces her chest, and sinks into her heart. The creepiest one we've seen so far, however, has to be where a loon repeatedly stabs her in the chest, before seemingly calming down, moving in close, and creepily closing the now dead Lara's eyes on her behalf when he's finished... It's also been revealed that at some point near the beginning of the game, Lara gets attacked by a wolf – which she savagely stabs repeatedly in the face, as blood splatters the screen. If Lara's flippant tiger slayings of the past didn't rile animal cruelty organisations, these definitely will. To add insult to injury, they've also removed the ability to auto-target enemies which Lara had before – back then, all you had to do was to get your guns out and fire, and she would shoot whichever enemy was closest. Now, you're on your own. And as anyone who's ever seen me play games can attest, I suck at anything that doesn't lock on for me...

From what we've seen so far, the dark, gritty tone doesn't just apply to the content, either - instead, the whole game appears to have been given something of a brown makeover. Gone will be the sprawling jungles, intricate Egyptian tombs and pure white snow drifts – instead replaced by boring brown, black and grey caves, filled with severed heads, skulls and bizarre rituals, at least if the trailers are anything to go by. I'm not sure if it's just me who feels like the combat always took more of a backseat to the puzzles, exploration and collecting trinkets – but for me, Tomb Raider's never really been about shooting things. It's about exploring. I've never really seen the point in this whole 'more satisfying' combat games seem to be obsessed with these days anyway. After all, has it really got to the point now where a game gets judged purely on its body count? And in all honesty, who wants to watch Lara get crushed by a boulder and have her brains splattered everywhere? Especially when you consider the daft woman has a tendency to always jump off things the wrong way and kill herself as it is?

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